Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Beginner's Mindset - Triathlon Training

I've been training for triathlons for the past two months and while working out has been a casual part of my activities in previous years, a few months ago, I wouldn't have even considered training for triathlons. A goal of mine for this year, when I turn 30, is to complete a fitness week, 7 days of exercises that would really test me. The wrench that was thrown into this was the repetitive stress injury I received which ended up in surgery. The surgery was the easy part. Not being able to lift for several months was a real drag. I wasn't much of a cardio person either, running 3 miles tops at a 9 min/mi pace and swimming about a mile at a time. At least not like others I knew.

A few people at work suggested that I do triathlons, as all that I was missing was the bike portion. I was on the fence about getting into cycling and I wasn't sure why. I don't know what possessed me to follow my own advice about immersing oneself into an activity. I soon found myself reaching out to friends that I knew were fast in some way. They agreed that I should find a triathlon to train towards and a training plan to match it. Pacific Grove Olympic Distance tri (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) was a few months away and I desperately searched for a 3 month training plan. One of my friends recommended The Triathletes Training Bible by Joe Friel. I started reading, and tried to get a sense of what it would take and if I were getting in over my head. I probably was but who cares. I suppose that's what the beginners mindset is all about. Not worrying about crashing and burning, not worrying about finishing in what place. Asking anybody for help. And just going nuts about it. For once, my prior competitive experience as an archer did not translate. Before, I could call a sponsor up for more stuff. Now, I had to figure out how to keep my shoes tied.

10 weeks later, and close to tapering for the Pacific Grove Tri, I'm feeling really good about things. I just want to finish respectably. There was a lot that I learned a long the way, and I'll try to put them down here. I tried to apply my experiences from shooting, cooking, and work to reduce the risk of getting beaten by a turtle while looking like an ass.

Before training:
500 yard swim - 12 mins
5k run - 27 mins
Bike - I didn't even own one
Exercise frequency - 2-3 times/week
Resting heart rate - 66-70 bpm
Blood pressure - 120/80
Weight - 128 lbs

Now /10 weeks later:
500 yard swim - 8 mins
5k run - 22 mins
Bike - 19 mph average on flat terrain
Exercise frequency - 2 times/day except Mondays
Resting heart rate - 54-60 bpm
Blood pressure - 110/70
Weight - 121 lbs

The individual lessons I learned:

Warm up properly
Your actual bulk of exercise should count after you've warmed up through the heart rate zones. I found that it takes me a 20-30 mins to warm up well. From there you can apply the right intensity. If I don't warm up properly, I peter out early and I waste a workout.

Pace yourself
If you don't manage your energy properly, you won't finish your workout. If you are trying to burn fat, and you end up spending most of your time breathing heavy, you're in the anaerobic zone. What this means is that you're using more stored carbohydrates than fat as an energy source, when you're trying to burn mostly fat. However, there are some very intense, but shortened time workouts that are effective at reducing fat. Do some research but make sure you understand the intent of the workout before you start.

Eat poorly, perform poorly
I used to eat anything I wanted, relying on my metabolism to keep me slim. It's slowing down for sure. Being in good physical shape has three components in my opinion: looking decent, being functionally useful, being healthy. Focus on the last two, and the third will come, your ultimate reward. If you want to break things down and eat to be fit, reverse the mindset. Think about the things you could eat, to improve your health and performance, instead of counting calories and stressing over each meal. You don't need to eliminate or drastically reduce carbs. That's just ridiculous. You need to eat the right ones for the right reasons. Look over the glycemic index of common sources of carbs and eat those kinds of foods at the right times. I would say, the more you know the better off you'll be, however packaged foods companies have been giving us "knowledge," implying that because something is low fat, it's healthy. I'm generally suspicious of packaged foods. What I might touch is a packaged snack within an hour of a workout. Usually, the worst that it could be is a high glycemic index food which makes sugars available immediately for use which I'll be using shortly anyways. Otherwise, just skip it and eat something whole or real, like fruit, or meat. If you want to eat pasta, bread or other high GI foods, do so right after your workout when your body is more inclined to reload your muscles, rather than pack the unused energy on as fat.

Another item is that if you work out intensely, you need to refuel immediately your workout. A rule of thumb is a workout > 1 hr, or an intense workout, is one that you should use some sort of recovery drink immediately after. Chocolate milk is an excellent choice. I'll leave it to you to research. If you don't refuel immediately, you could compromise your next workout, or feel fatigued the next day. If you miss that workout, and you overeat, you're setting your clock back. I made the mistake of not having a recovery drink or eating immediately after a workout several times. Without fail, I was fatigued and did not perform well the next day. Some workouts were skipped. You are doing yourself a disservice by not eating right after an intense workout, in hopes that you'll keep the caloric intake down.

Perform for your friends, not just for yourself
While I strongly believe that one should follow the beat of their own drum, your friends want you to do well and get in better shape. You'll be more pleasant to be around, and have more energy. Obviously if your friends are discouraging, find new friends. If you had a ball and chain attached to your ankle I would hope you'd be looking for some bolt cutters rather than finding a better way to carry the ball. Whenever I feel like quitting early, unless I feel actual joint pain (listen to your body), I imagine friends are watching. What would they say if they saw me wuss out of a workout? This works for me because obviously if I listened to myself only, I'd be calling it quits and watching some movie.

Besides you're setting a good example without saying anything. One of the most difficult parts for me is getting through the warmup. If I'm not careful about warming up really slowly, the lactic acid burn will increase, and I then think I need a rest day. What usually cures this is thinking the above, slowing down, giving it a good 20-30 mins of warmup while peaking once into the anaerobic zone (breathing heavy) for 20-30 seconds, and slowing things back down. Use what works for you, but a nice kick in the pants usually comes when you imagine your most fit friend looking over your shoulder.

Hope those points helped. It took a bunch of trial and error. The shortened training plan wasn't exactly forgiving, and I hope that you can use some of the above in the fitness plan you choose.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Managing Stress - Part 2 - Managing Your Day

Not so much a food pic, but rather a snapshot of the bags for my different sports/work/activities. Being able to transition quickly between triathlon training, range practice, cooking, and sales engineering allows me to enjoy more of my day flexibly, show up prepared and feel less frustrated.

On the last post, I discussed some sources of harmful stress, the main one being meaningless actions or work. Meaningless work could also include a meaningless day. I thought that instead of talking conceptually, I'd change it up and offer some tips together that you can use to improve your day, if appropriate. A lot of these are not original thoughts, I'll be the first to say. However, the specific combination in which I use them is unique to myself. I'm not special, but we're all a little different. Use what works. Make it your own.

A little review before we start and I'll ask some questions so we can get thinking and look for answers along the way. How often is it that when we learn something new, it feels awkward? How often do we get good and fast at something when we don't practice it? How often do we practice something incorrectly do we actually do it properly? What I'm hoping for you to consider is that making your day efficient and unfrustrating relies on good habits. Good habits form with doing things correctly. Doing things correctly results from reviewing what you did, not just doing them. It's that simple, but because it's that simple, we often ignore these basic concepts, myself guilty as charged. A famous chef once proclaimed that he was only better than others, because his basics were better. That chef was not me =) I was only reading about him.

Let's go through some basics and I will draw from my activities for examples and stories. I will try to keep them potent and well described.

Assuming that you get 8 hours of sleep, you still have 16 hours left to do whatever with. What do you think might happen if you were to write a few things down that you want to get done? What if they were really important? What if they were things you just wanted to get done? Great. And this begins the concept of the "Five Big, Five Small." I got this idea from my exec coach, Michael Ker. Write down 5 things that are the most important to do. Underneath, write down 5 things that are less important, but you still should do. Now this is typically applied for a week's time. But you can do 2 big, 2 small for a day's worth. How do you act on these items? Work on the big items first. The reasoning is that mental energy is NOT limitless, at least mine isn't. Another assumption is that you may not finish all of them, so work on what you need to first, and take breaks by doing the small items. The big items are the rocks, and the gaps are filled in by the little tasks, almost like sand or pebbles. Why is this effective at reducing stress? Well it gives me a sense of accomplishment, and is very efficient for what it brings. I am perfectly okay spending even a half hour doing this, although it usually takes a few minutes with practice. To give some meaning to your 16 hours, a half hour is very little overhead. Do this routine in conjunction with your calendar. My work calendar runs my life. I get booked for presentations, requirements calls, and other customer activities. Any downtime I have in between, I use to prepare for appointments, and to mentally recharge. Notice that email clearing isn't a big task. I don't get paid to clear emails unless I were a support rep, and even then I'd be paid to retain customers. But...there are usually less than 10 emails in my inbox at any given time.

Here's an example of one of mine...
(4 hours available today...meetings, presentations filling the rest)
Prepare Service Cloud/Entitlements demo for manufacturing prospect (2hrs)
Outline competitive strategy for Customer Portal small (1 hr)


Clear inbox
Enter notes into salesforce

Make haircut appointment

If you don't get everything done, don't beat yourself up, just mark down what you did, and carry stuff over to the next day. If you realize that you dont' "want" to carry it over, it should never have been written down because it wasn't all that important in the first place. Learn from this.

The list ends up being:

done-Prepare Service Cloud/Entitlements demo for prospect (2hrs)

not done-Outline competitive strategy for Customer Portal small (1 hr)


done-Clear inbox
all in-Enter notes into salesforce

not done, first thing tmrw - Make haircut appointment

So you're thinking why am I not using my master list of tons of things to do? Because of a few things. One, it's a big list. It's hard to look over. After all you do have 16 hours which is a lot, but it still is only one day. Focus on what's in front of you. Secondly, most of the things that people ask me to do either get trashed or get put in my someday list (which is almost as good as the trash). If I did everything that people asked, I would be unprofitable to the company. And I would have no time to do quality, meaningful work. Both suck. Besides people ask for things in a knee jerk reaction most of the time.

Most importantly, having a concise workspace allows you to work rapidly. I write this down on a sheet in Evernote ( that covers one week, and have one section for each day. Clean and easy. I learned the importance of a concise workspace working at the restaurant. That workspace was the cutting board. It's always to be kept clean, your knife ready. If you're not working, you're cleaning your board. Why? Because while you're working on a larger dish, smaller fires are creeping up and you might need to help another chef out. As soon as I plate and send out the dish, cleaning off the board is a second nature reaction, and I can take on someone else's work. It's good for the restaurant. If my board weren't clear, I'd be using someone else's cucumbers in the current plate, and then send out the dishes in reverse order, creating an issue for the servers and then mayhem ensues. What can you do to get yourself ready enough not only to cover your work, but to help out some colleagues and be good to your organization?

Another major annoyance, is email. Having adopted GTD, or Getting Things Done by David Allen, email is no longer a headache. Having not found any good simple explanation for it's email use, I'll give you the summary here. Look over everything in your inbox, delete all useless items. Create folders called Next, Action, Someday, Waiting. Starting at the top of your inbox, look through your emails and respond to emails that you can within a minute, and file them if it will take longer. File them according to these rules:

Immediate action items go to Next
Things you still have to do go to Action
Things that are nice to do go to Someday
Things that you're waiting on a response for goes to Waiting

This is a very simplified version of GTD. What you want to practice is being ruthless about protecting your Next, and Action bins. Don't overcommit yourself by thinking things must get done. From your Next and Action boxes will likely come material for your 5 Big 5 Small list. And so that's how they're connected. Feel how much less stressed out you'll be when you know what needs action and what doesn't. It can help you focus on what matters and spend less time poring over meaningless stuff.

Another aspect to consider is working rapidly when you need to, especially during those firedrills or "all hands on deck." The faster your pace of work, the narrower your field of focus or the more people you'll need to help who can work quickly and make up for lost visibility. As long as you recognize that relationship and not try to exceed your limits, I feel that you'll be able to work rapidly, and relatively stress free. Let me provide an example outside work, and I'll use action pistol shooting which involves shooting many targets on the run, through obstacles like the Steel Challenge on ESPN. It looks fun and it definitely is. Let's consider the following relationship. You can only hit what you see. You can only hit what you're aiming at. Basically your eyes are looking for targets, but your body must be aligned with your eyes to actually hit anything. Now if you have ample time, you can look around, find the bullseye, get set, and squeeze off a well aimed shot. What happens when you get a few seconds, to draw, hit three targets, reload and hit those same targets again? Your head and arms holding your handgun need to move as one unit, the downside is that moving that way is much less agile than if I just turned my head. What can I do to get the best of both? Admit that this seemingly simple problem isn't that simple first of all. Next, figure out your range of motion, which in this case is less than 180 degrees (for safety in competitions). This helps you figure out how many targets you can take on at a time. Third, identify where you will reload to have enough ammo for the next set of targets, and allow enough extra ammo for any misses. Then combine target acquisition with reloading, kind of like waiting for the laundry to finish while you go shopping. With practice, you can shoot faster, but you really can't increase your range of motion, despite the above being a game. What can you do here to go after fewer, but faster, and transition quicker? Even in actual tactical situations you can't widen your range much because your team is close by and you don't want to hit them. What's the solution to this? Either figure out your transition area, or have a team member supplement your field of fire by adding their own. In matches, all my spare ammunition is neatly arranged in magazines along the left side of my belt, also angled in the direction of my hand. What if I had my spare ammunition loose in my pockets, not loaded into the magazines, mixed in with my phone, loose change, car keys? I'd probably be told to choose a new sport.

How do you apply this competitive methodology to your day if you know that you'll be busy? Check your calendar for appointments that you must attend. These are the items you must be prepared for. Look at gaps in your calendar, this is your chance to regroup and prep for the next appointments. Find out how much unreserved time you have. Look at your Next/Action lists, choose a few and write them on the top of your sheet of notes for the day. Next, write a header for each appointment you have with the subject, and people you're talking with. All on the same sheet. This sheet will guide your day. If your guidance itself is in multiple locations, it's like using two sets of directions. Very frustrating. I want everything in my field of view, same screen. As you move from appointment to appointment, you take notes underneath each header. When you're not in meetings, you're instinctively writing down the next actions from your previous meeting. This is like cleaning off the cutting board without thinking right after I've passed the plate to the server. If at any time, someone calls you for some ridiculous fire drill, you'll feel a lot less stressed out going into it and coming out of it, because you know you'll be able to jump right back into the rest of your day.'re not paranoid about forgetting things because you're writing important notes down. This lets me hop from meeting to meeting relatively stress free. What stresses me out is not being able to find things and the last status of items, but with the above, is now easily taken care of. And from there, I have plenty of juice to go bike, swim, or get dinner with friends.

A few final thoughts on working rapidly:
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast
You can't miss fast enough to win

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Managing Stress - Part 1

I was reading my iPad today and came across a article on stress; link at bottom of this post. Oh yes, the picture is of a steak quesadilla with bourbon sauce I made at a bachelors party. Trying to get my wrist back in shape as far as food work goes.

Back to the article; it's worth the read. While it brings up development of a vaccine for stress, it's main focus is on what causes harmful stress, and challenges the notion that being busy and operating intensely results in stress. The condition that doesn't kill you outright, but aggravates other conditions such as the risk of stroke.

I want to share a few points that hopefully can help friends and readers approach their activities (profession included) with some additional vigor and prevent some of the bad stress. I'll do this in two parts. First, I'll talk about harmful stress as a result of unmeaningful work, and then the proposed stress reduction points from this article, as well as some of my own.

I'll also pull in a small story from an unrelated activity to show you why it's worth another look at this played out topic. A few months back, I went to precision rifle school having been a competitive shooter for some time, and recently an instructor. Above the door to the class room there was a sign that said "Rifles Only. Fight Smart." For a little background, the rifle training focused specifically on long distance shooting, not the classless up-close "spray and pray" you see on the movies. This was my way of taking my competitive abilities to the next level. The rifles used, are generally no more than upgraded hunting rifles (simple stuff), a far cry from machine guns even dating back to WWI. Why then, are military sharpshooters one of the most requested and feared tactical units at a commanders disposal? It's not the weaponry, it's the brains behind the trigger. They fight smarter. They're what is referred to as force multiplier, or in plain language, true leverage. What are you doing to exploit leverage points?

Hold that thought and let's move onto meaningless work. An example of meaningless work would be anything you don't know the purpose behind, is not fascinating, or is obviously not going to be used. An example of meaningful work, for me would be crafting a product presentation that ties nicely into requirements from a prospect. I know why they're looking at their product. I know why my work is important. I know they appreciate my effort. I recognize I don't win every deal. I did choose this profession and enjoy what I do. Obviously there are times when I doubt this. When I doubt this, it begins to bug me, and I mentally check out ... start thinking about vacation. When I don't doubt any of this, I forget what time it is. What I didn't understand was that I was experiencing a stress model that was articulated in this article.

The "Demand-Control" model of stress proposes that the damage from stress is significantly increased through a lack of control over your work, rather than the sheer amount of stress itself. An example would be being forced to generate meaningless reports that no one reviews, and yet you're required to do them. If you know that much of your work feels meaningless, there are a few paths to take. One, try to remove all the why's from your current tasking. Fortunately at work, it's very much encouraged that I always ask why. If you can't remove the why's, try to build a sense of pleasure from doing something well. If reducing the number of WTF's per day isn't something you can control, try NLP.

NLP or Neuro Linguistic Programming has a good application here, in that one can trigger specific physiological responses by thinking an unrelated thought. This is almost like a mental drug. Call it up when you need to. A loose comparison would be your "Happy Place" however, you can program in more specific responses and feelings other than just being happy. Basically you relive a situation with the qualities (or modalities) you want to feel on command, relink them to another thought. Then you can call up those qualities on command. It takes a little practice though. Use it whenever you deal with someone you don't like. Richard Bandler, as an author/researcher is a good place to start.

Another good reason to use NLP when you don't have all the why's answered is because you can't answer all of them. It's been stated that humans don't deal well with uncertainty. You could approach this by being okay with not knowing things, which I do do sometimes. But at that time there needs to be trust. Either you know all the whys, or you trust in the direction, leader, strategy etc. Fighting smart here would be to increase the trust between you and whoever else has a hand in what you do.

For managers, it's understandable that you don't have answers to all the why's. May I propose that you ask your reports if they at least trust in the direction. If they don't, it's probably not you, it's just that they haven't seen around the corner, and that's the role of a good leader. Be one and help them see what's coming ahead. Share with them some of the executive conversations you've had. It might even be a good topic for a regular team meeting. Instead of status updates, invest in a good CRM tool and buy your time back for meaningful discussions. An example would be the classic "We need to tighten down on expenses." Everyone hears that. At your executive meetings, ask for the reason behind it. If I'm one of your reports and you tell me that we're conserving cash because we're picking up companies or looking to hire more people, I'll be more likely to spend it like it were my own. And this whole discussion of why is, in my opinion a cultural shift with the abundance of information. Before, few people had the answers and if they did, they harbored them. There would be little incentive to ask why. Now, it's important to know why, and why that reason is authentic (one step better than truth on paper).

Now in the interest of fighting smart, if you've already tried to figure out why what you're doing is important but are stumped, ask your manager. This is a way of building trust. The point here to managers is to not breach that trust or at least be upfront about mishaps. Ultimately we all work for someone, whether that's directly for the customer, or for your manager. If you deal directly with customers, ask them why they're requesting something. Just be respectful of the "give-take" principle. You might say, "I'm happy to do this for you, and if you can give me a better sense of why this is a big deal, perhaps we can find you some additional help." (If you can give me more, I'll give you more) Worse case scenario is that your work specifies repetitive activities that don't allow for innovation. However I'm hard pressed to believe that a good manager or leader won't be receptive to your ideas on improvements. Run the idea by a select coworker first to make sure your pitch doesn't suck. If your manager is not receptive without explaining why, make a mental note. But you have to be fair and make sure you're addressing both the give and take with your pitch. "Here's what we should do. This is why it makes sense. I can get this done because. Now this is what I need to do so."

There are a variety of books on managing upwards, helping your manager provide you with better objectives and tasking. A lot are just plain cheesy. To sum things up, you have an obligation to let your manager know what you're good at and what you're inclined to do. You need to ask for what you want, and have to be ready to offer up things in exchange. If you are a manager, you have an obligation to your reports to help them improve their work, by reducing the WTF's per day, and increasing their understanding behind the work they do. If there is a generational gap (if you're 20-30 yrs old), know that a sense of entitlement is a huge dislike of senior management, as expressed by my exec coach. They love our sense of charity and recognition of causes outside our own. But entitlement seems to be a pervasive negative theme. Be smart, don't sound like a brat. Sell yourself. You can get what you want. Just show some skills first.

Now on to ways to prevent harmful stress. I'll comment on those in my next blog post =) I figured I'd start with the "why" first. Till next time.

Referenced article here:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Working with an Executive Coach - An Intro

Involved but not intense
Relaxed body language
Listen with all your senses
Great eye contact
Be close but don't invade

Obviously these are not my ideas, but how many times have we been caught up in the moment, and neglected these qualities in both our personal and professional dealings? How many times have you been in a situation in your career development where you felt you needed a sounding board for why you do what you do? These questions and others drove me to work with an executive coach.

Now the title implies that I'm management, and I'm not. Why then would I chose this type of instruction? Let's face it, at some point, many of us will move to management. When you get there, will you arrive ready? What if you want to own your own business someday? Will you come up with a great idea, fall short on execution and mismanage your resources such that your organization goes bankrupt or gets picked up at a fire sale? Certain events are inevitable; what will you do to minimize risk or improve chances of success? Will you become a manager or leader similar to one you've disliked, or that you've admired? Like I commented on in my post about knowing your limits, your skills help you win, your overconfidence makes you lose.

So what does executive coaching look like? I meet every other week for an hour. For the first part of the session, we discuss items I need immediate help with. For example, I might have a few sales presentations to executives and I need to review their fundamental concerns. Is my assessment of their business accurate? Can I estimate whether this organization is profitable based on employee count and revenue? This helps me in putting our technical strategy in perspective when making recommendations to the account executives I support.

As far as the products I position, especially anything related to metrics or intelligence, I want to offer recommendations that improve the chances our software will be used throughout our customer's organization. For example, we know that experienced managers I present to will grade their employees and make attempts to move the middle 70% upwards. Am I positioning our dashboarding or reporting capabilities in this way or am I simply saying that we can measure performance?

For another portion of the session, we discuss personalities, and how best to relate to them. You may have heard of Myers Briggs, and other models. We do something similar, however the methodology we use, Social Styles, I feel is much quicker and practical when you're on your toes. We choose people we know, try to fit them into a personality profile, and build methods for addressing their needs appropriately. We all like to be communicated with according to our preferences. And why wouldn't it make sense to study these groups, and help adjust your interactions according to their preferences.

For example, someone with a Driving style like myself, is characterized by someone who responds best by being given your best recommendation, rather than options. An Analytical style is the opposite. If you hadn't at least studied my body language, the objects in my office, and phrasing, you might have proposed too many options to me, and I'll likely ask you to whittle down the choices. Thus requiring another meeting or at least introducing some delay in your engagement.

Usually towards the end, we discuss business problems and set todo's for next time. This involves some reading and general observations at meetings. Did I quickly estimate the personality styles on the key decision makers of the deals I'm working on? Can I articulate the organizational reasons for purchasing?

This is all incredibly interesting to me, but how does it benefit the organization I work for? By putting someone in front of decision makers who understands operationally how a manufacturing organization reconciles its build plan against the sales forecast, or how a multichannel support organization is measured by, is more likely to build rapport, and gain confidence with our business partners in a variety of engagements. I also have articles and books to read, organizations to research, and business problems to study at home.

How do you get the most out of an executive coach? Have a clear understanding of what you're looking to get out of it. After all, it's your time. Ask yourself what else you're doing to work intelligently and exploit leverage points. Ask yourself what you're naturally good at, and also what you're inclined to do. Your coach should be able to help you identify your shortcomings, recommend an improvement plan, and help you see around the corner. I've been working with Michael Ker from Acceleration Leadership for the past 5 months and it ranks up there with the best calls I've made this year.